Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: Exit Interview

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, City Life, Green, News etc., Transit No Comments »

Gabe Klein tries out Chicago’s first pedestrian scramble/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Maybe we jinxed things by naming transportation czar Gabe Klein as the city’s best department head in this magazine’s October 31 Best of Chicago issue, because the very next day he announced he was stepping down. Can’t really blame the guy since, two-and-a-half years after he took the job, his wife is still living in his previous hometown of Washington, D.C., where he’ll be returning to launch new transportation technology enterprises in the private sector. Still, it’s a shame that the poster boy for reconfiguring urban streets to serve all road users, not just drivers, is leaving the Windy City in his bicycle taillights. I caught up with him at his downtown office for a final chat.

To ask the classic annoying job interview question, what was your biggest weakness as commissioner?
Coming to town and not necessarily understanding all the history of how the city works meant there was a bigger learning curve. I came in with Mayor Emanuel and had this idea that we were going to set the world on fire and change transportation in Chicago. That’s a double-edged sword. If I didn’t think that way, we wouldn’t have been able to get as much done, but you also rub some people the wrong way. So maybe I could have been a little less boisterous? I don’t know. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Don’t Walk

Avondale, Checkerboard City, Green, Transit No Comments »

Crossing an offramp at Addison/Photo: John Greenfield

The Illinois Department of Transportation isn’t all bad, but it sure seems that way sometimes. Earlier this year, my blogging partner Steven Vance broke the story that IDOT has been blocking the Chicago Department of Transportation from installing protected bike lanes on state-jurisdiction roads. The motives behind the ban aren’t clear yet, but documents the Active Transportation Alliance obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request suggest that, contrary to the state’s explanation, concern for safety isn’t one of them.

Also this year, IDOT rammed the Circle Interchange Expansion through the regional planning process. The project will make room for more cars in the West Loop’s “spaghetti bowl” junction of the Ryan, the Ike and the Kennedy. While this $475 million boondoggle promises to do little to relieve congestion, it will discourage transit use, and its three flyover ramps will degrade the pedestrian environment and lower property values. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Hauling Ashland

Back of the Yards, Checkerboard City, Green, Lakeview, Pilsen, Transit 1 Comment »
A southbound #9 Ashland bus / Photo: John Greenfield

A southbound #9 Ashland bus/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

“It doesn’t matter what you do to the bus! I will never take a bus! I will drive until the state won’t give me a license anymore.” So said an otherwise nice-seeming lady from the anti-bus rapid transit group the Ashland-Western Coalition at a community meeting this summer.

The CTA plans to build a BRT line on Ashland from 95th to Irving Park, providing an El-train-like experience on wheels instead of rails. Think of it as the Gray or Indigo Line. The buses will run in car-free lanes in the middle of the street, with stops located every half mile.

These traits, along with several other timesaving features, will bring speeds up to an estimated 15.9 mph, including stops, during rush hours. That’s almost twice as fast as the current #9 Ashland bus, which the CTA says averages only 8.7 mph, and it’s comparable to car speeds. That’s what’s needed if we want to make transit an attractive alternative to driving. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Southwest Side Sojourn

Bicycling, Brighton Park, Checkerboard City, Garfield Ridge, Green No Comments »

The secret path by Bubbly Creek. Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

I must be a glutton for punishment. That’s the only way to explain my decision to scout out a new “stealth route” bicycle itinerary from Bridgeport to the ‘burbs along the Sanitary and Ship Canal last week, in ninety-five-degree heat. This was to be the continuation of a route I reconnoitered last year from the Loop to the Daleys’ ancestral home, hugging the South Branch of the Chicago River—you can read that writeup at

Completed in 1900, the canal was dug in order to reverse the flow of the river, to keep sewage from entering Chicago’s water supply. It still carries our treated wastewater to the Des Plaines River, and it serves as the only shipping link between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Circular Reasoning

Checkerboard City, Loop 1 Comment »

Michael Edwards with the “Give” sculpture at The Gateway/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

The State Street shopping district has come a long way since the seventies and eighties when the strip featured a motley assortment of discount stores, theaters showing exploitation flicks, adult bookstores, strip clubs and flophouses. The thoroughfare has bounced back since the 1996 State Street Revitalization Project, which put in the classy Beaux Arts fixtures we enjoy today, and is once again a vibrant retail corridor.

But the Chicago Loop Alliance, one of the downtown chambers of commerce, is always looking for ways to attract more visitors to That Great Street. One of their key strategies is “placemaking,” taking underused public spaces and activating them with facilities and programs that encourage folks to hang out, relax and socialize.

The chamber’s Pop-Up Art Loop program turns empty storefronts into temporary galleries, which are promoted with monthly art walks. Earlier this summer the CLA and the Chicago Department of Transportation installed tables, chairs and planter boxes in an existing plaza on the median of State between Wacker Drive and Lake Street, now called The Gateway. Last week “Give,” a fourteen-foot-tall circular steel sculpture by Chicago artist Dusty Folwarczny, was installed at the foot of the plaza. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Organic Mechanics

Bicycling, Bronzeville, Checkerboard City, Green No Comments »
Tonaa Jamerson, center, fixes a flat with a friend. Photo: John Greenfield

Tonaa Jamerson, center, fixes a flat tire./Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

As I pedal up to the Bronzeville Community Garden, 51st and Calumet, on a Wednesday afternoon, smooth R&B drifts from a sound system and folks are gathered around a table made of colorfully painted repurposed wood, gazing intently at a chess game. Planter boxes hold a variety of greenery, including tall stalks of corn, and an old bathtub covered with a swirling mosaic design sits full of soil that’s ready for planting.

Soon a group of ten teenagers will show up on mountain bikes to make improvements to the garden and do free bicycle repairs for community members. They’re apprentices with the Greencorps Chicago youth program, a project closely aligned with the Chicago Department of Transportation’s new Divvy bike-share system.

The planned coverage area for Divvy’s first 400 docking stations stretches from 63rd to Devon, including a number of low-income neighborhoods like Bronzeville, and CDOT has applied for funding to further expand the system. However, many Chicago communities won’t be getting bikes during this first round of installations. Read the rest of this entry »

Lollapalooza’s Green Street: The Official Guide to the Festival’s Face of Social Responsibility

Events, Green No Comments »

For Newcity’s coverage of the music of Lollapalooza, click here.

Illustration by Chuck U

Illustration by Chuck U

Since its debut in 1991, Lollapalooza now ranks as one of the nation’s premier rock festivals with eight stages, 130 bands, and 270,000 fans over three days. While known for the diverse musical lineups, the festival has been a platform to support social change and environmental stewardship from day one.  Today, Green Street is the festival’s face of social responsibility, offering more than your average festival shopping experience.

Lollapalooza’s home for greening initiatives, hand-selected art vendors, non-profit organizations and farm-to-festival fare, Green Street aspires to leave an impact far beyond the festival alone. Whether selling repurposed or ethically sourced goods, all vendors have proven values that align with Lollapalooza’s. The Lolla Cares organizations support surrounding and international communities with causes ranging from health advocacy to sustainable living to fighting poverty at home and abroad. If that’s not enough, Green Mountain Energy and Rock & Recycle represent the many festival environmental initiatives and Lolla Farmers Market features small-batch food businesses from the Chicago area. Read the rest of this entry »

The Heart of a Festival: Environmental Efforts at and by Lollapalooza

Events, Green No Comments »

Part of the Official Guide to Lollapalooza’s Green Street


Rock out, recycle and win a free commemorative Lollapalooza t-shirt, cool swag and a chance to win a Lollapalooza bike. Visit one of the four Rock & Recycle centers throughout the park for more details.

Recycled Paper Greetings puts a fresh spin on the classic card. They pioneered the use of recycled paper in the greeting card industry and continue to print more than eighty million cards annually on recycled paper. Recycled Paper Greetings is committed to sustainable practices and is very proud to be the sponsor of Lollapalooza’s Rock & Recycle program where you can earn free stuff for recycling.


Over the past six years, C3 Presents has worked with Green Mountain Energy to track and offset Lollapalooza’s carbon footprint. Read the rest of this entry »

The Three-Dollar Deal: What It Means To Be A Carbon Offset

Green No Comments »

GreenMountain_FestBoothPart of the Official Guide to Lollapalooza’s Green Street

By Josh Kovensky

How much carbon do you emit in a given day? Between a combustion-powered commute and an AC-filled summer, from a solitary camping trip to a transcontinental flight, the numbers vary wildly. High-octane events, like Lollapalooza, can pump carbon into the atmosphere, while even incidental activities (riding the El, for example) contribute to an overall passing of atmospheric gas.

If you plan on going to Lollapalooza, you can neutralize this by engaging in Lolla’s Tread Lightly program. Lollapalooza, in partnership with Green Mountain Energy, is offering a three-dollar carbon offset to help the average concertgoer reduce his chemical footfalls among the melodic hubbub. Green Mountain Energy, normally a renewable power provider, wheels and deals in carbon offsets as well, all for the benefit of Lolla’s concertgoers, and for the environment that we all share. Read the rest of this entry »

Lollapalooza Green Street: Art Market

Events, Green No Comments »


Part of the Official Guide to Lollapalooza’s Green Street

The Art Market vendors, located in Green Street North and South, sell repurposed or ethically sourced goods. Read the rest of this entry »